The Video Games are Good team had an opportunity to play a handful of indie games from Japanese developers under the PLAYISM label at PAX West 2023. Up first was the chaotic action roguelike Metal Bringer and a talk with PLAYISM Executive Producer Shunji Mizutani.
Taking a few steps into PAX West's newest expansion, the freshly constructed Summit building that opened in January this year, you find yourself at the center of an intense battle for attention. Companies like DoorDash and AT&T sit alongside titles like Tekken 8, Baldur's Gate 3, and Vampire the Masquerade. They've all got massive themed booths that invite you into their worlds: Their large video screens loop eye-catching trailers, and loud music blares to pull you in.
But off toward one side of the room lays a humble assortment of game stations awash in a yellow glow. With cozy basket chairs and beanbags at each station and just one simple TV playing trailers for over six different games on a loop, it stood in stark contrast with the overwhelm of the rest of the floor.
It's here that we met with PLAYISM, a Japanese publisher that focuses on supporting indie developers in Japan, working to bring their titles to the widest audience possible and uplifting their creative visions on all fronts.
We'd booked several appointments with the team across the four-day event, starting with Metal Bringer, a newly announced mecha roguelite that focuses on customization both in design and in play.
Hands-on impressions with Metal Bringer
Developer: ALPHAWING Inc.
Genre: Roguelike action-adventure
Metal Bringer, when we first got an email to check it out, was still unannounced and had to be pitched to us in secret. All we were given ahead of time was that this game was a "customizable, robotic roguelike" that promised "hordes of enemies" and "gigantic bosses." We booked the appointment based solely on this vague description, and just a week before the show finally found ourselves introduced to the chaotic, bullet hell-inspired, roguelike world of Metal Bringer.
Coming off of the heels of their debut release, Samurai Bringer, Metal Bringer ditches the ancient Japan setting for a dystopian sci-fi setting where humans live underground and have never seen the sky. It swaps out a gameplay loop of learning new martial arts techniques for one more focused on gaining new weapons and mech pieces in the world.
It may seem like a quick turnaround for the team, as Samurai Bringer was released just a year and a half ago, but they may have used a few sneaky techniques to make development that little bit easier. In our interview, we learned that a few of the assets from Samurai Bringer were brought over to Metal Bringer and given a sci-fi makeover. The biggest change between games was the jump to Unreal Engine 5, something that was used to allow the team at ALPHAWING Inc. to emphasize that old-school chunky voxel aesthetic alongside modern raytraced lighting effects, showing a blend of old and new.
In Metal Bringer, players wake up deep underground after 1,000 years of cryosleep as Suria. Suria quickly finds herself placed directly into a conflict between humanity and robots, one that can only be handled using the power of "Labors" (humanoid robots) and "Arms" (giant mechs).
Players are able to fully customize both Labors and Arms to match their play style, and once ready, are sent out into the world to fight off hordes of enemies in a randomized "dungeon." The play experience lands somewhere between a classic musou game (games like Dynasty Warriors that emphasize one warrior versus a horde of hundreds) and a hectic bullet hell game. That may sound overwhelming, but, at least in the demo we got to play, it definitely leaned more into the power fantasy of it all.
It's easy to chew through enemies: The visual chaos with the chunky voxels exploding into bits and the laser show effects of Metal Bringer's aesthetic make it so much fun to watch, and the knowledge that you are deeply in control of exactly how your character comes together makes for a deeply empowering experience.
Our demo was timed, cutting off right as I finally had a chance to hop into my very own giant mech, but I felt the pull of the game's run-based systems calling to me. Roguelikes will almost always appeal to me, and Metal Bringer's unique approach to battle systems and customization has more than enough appeal to keep my attention and get me excited about gathering up all the pieces I need to build a perfect bot to demolish my enemies in future runs.
Before our demo, we had the opportunity to chat with PLAYISM Executive Producer Shunji Mizutani about the sneaky nuances of the game, whether or not folks can use the customization tools in the game to make some recognizable bots, and even how he personally likes to play the game.
This interview was conducted through an interpreter, just prior to our hands-on time with the game.
VGG: Mech-based games can sometimes feel a little unapproachable for newcomers, especially when they have such major customization systems, with tons of different parts and everything to keep track of. What kinds of things does Metal Bringer do to help the genre feel a little more accessible?
Mizutani: So, in terms of the customization, it could feel a little daunting to have a lot of different parts and a lot of different skills. But what they've done with this game to kind of welcome newcomers is that they made it so it's easier to play. And they wanted to lean into the customization aspect, in the sense that they wanted players to kind of freely attach the parts that they like and to bring those into the battle, rather than having to worry about power levels and everything like that. I think that's the most welcoming part.
VGG: On that note, just how flexible is the customization? Is it something where someone can go in and make something that looks like an Eva or Gundam? Is it that flexible to go all the way up to that?
Mizutani: In terms of the customization flexibility... for Labors [the humanoid robots the players inhabit] and Arms [the giant mecha the Labors can hop into], you can customize the head, torso, arms, and legs. Within those four components, there are parts that kind of resemble Evangelion and Gundam, but as of right now, you can't really go all-out Gundam, you know. There are only several parts that kind of resemble it, but, the developers would really like to get feedback from the Western audience [about the kinds of mecha they like]. If a lot of players are interested in seeing a particular mecha, then the developers are very welcome to try to add that to the game.
VGG: Is there potential for those kinds of official partnerships or is that not really something in the cards?
Mizutani: [He laughs.] For that... we're going to have to discuss that with Evangelion's director. But yeah. We'll definitely pay him a quick visit when we find out.
VGG: At the start of the demo, there's a narrative that's teased. How involved is the narrative with the roguelike experience? Is it the kind that slowly unfolds with each run?
Mizutani: In terms of the gameplay, and the mechanic layout, it would be kind of similar to Hades where you would fight through waves, and then meet a boss, and then rinse and repeat. But if you lose a fight... your cute little robot buddies in the world, those guys will actually pick up your archives. [After you lose] you can then look through those archives, and that's how you'll learn the story of Metal Bringer.
VGG: You brought up Hades on the structure side, but is there a game that you would say this feels like in the combat? It's very chaotic, kind of bullet hell a little bit... is there a nice comparison or inspiration that you can point at?
Mizutani: As the development progressed, we learned that the team had kind of based the project on Gradius III.
We're looking forward to seeing what that really means, because Gradius is more of a shoot-em-up, right? So, Metal Bringer has a little different feel and we're still trying to find out what to make of that.
In terms of the aesthetics, they kind of based it off of the older generation of consoles, like PlayStation 1. The art style and everything like that, it's kind of based on that retro aspect. But what the developers wanted to do was implement the technology that they couldn't back in the day. So they added the Unreal aspect, where it's more fluid and [features ray-traced lighting]. So it has a retro feel, but at the same time it's smooth and it plays great.
VGG: As someone who has likely played the game for hours, and considering the level of customization capable here, we're curious to hear what your favorite build of Labor or Arms is in Metal Bringer?
Mizutani: I don't really have a favorite particular build... but what I like to do is during the waves, I like to defeat the big mechas, and I like to use the parts that they drop specifically. I like to eliminate those big mechs, grab their parts, put them on, and just rinse and repeat until I can make a full kit.
...But if I had to choose a specific weapon type, it would have to be the samurai sword. Ninja style. [Mizutani pretends to slash with a sword and we share a laugh.]
[At this point, we began to transition into our interview for Fight Crab 2, but Mizutani had one last thing to say about Metal Bringer.]
Mizutani: I have one more thing about Metal Bringer, and it's that, in these kinds of games, how they typically play out is you power up by getting items. And you get stronger and stronger. And you eventually just become really OP. The team kind of took a similar approach with Metal Bringer, but instead of just making it standard power-ups, they come in the form of discs. Each disc has a different skill. And all these discs just enhance the different combinations for your particular play style. You can power up the way you want.
VGG: Ah, so that customization comes through in the actual play style as well and not just aesthetically. I love that!
Metal Bringer is set to release on PC sometime in the near future!